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Essay on Plato and Aristotle's Impact on Rhetoric

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Plato and Aristotle are two rhetoricians than had a great impact on the history of rhetoric. Although they were similar in many ways, their use and definition of rhetoric were different. Plato had the more classical approach where he used rhetoric as a means of education to pass down his beliefs and practice of rhetoric to his students. He believed that it should be used to educate the masses, provoking thought, and thereby preserving that knowledge. Plato thought that rhetoric should be used to convey truth, truths already known to the audience, revealed through that dialectic critical thought. Plato also operated on absolute truths, things that are right or wrong, black or white. Aristotle was more modern in that he used rhetoric as a tool of persuasion in the polis. He thought that the main purpose of rhetoric was to persuade, provoking emotions for his audience as a tool of persuasion. Aristotle’s rhetoric was more science based, using enthymemes and syllogism to foster logical thinking. He believed that rhetoric was a means of discovering truth. His rhetoric was highly deliberative since he used it mainly for persuasion. I will discuss their differences in more depth in the following essay.
Plato's rhetoric uses dialogue and dialectic as a means of making meaning known. Anthony Petruzzi says that Plato’s “Truth is neither a correspondence with an "objective" reality, nor does it exist solely as a coherent relation to a set of social beliefs; rather, truth is concomitantly a revealing and a concealing, or a withdrawing arrival” (Petruzzi 6). However, for Plato truth becomes a matter of correspondence or correctness in “the agreement of the mental concept (or representation) with the thing” (Petruzzi 7). In other words, the tr...


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... thus aiding in the process of decision making and acceptance of knowledge” (199).
For both Plato and Aristotle, the end goal was truth and justice. For Plato, rhetoric must be used for good purposes in order to persuade the one through discourse. Rhetoric for Aristotle, on the other hand, was that truth could be attained by arguing and understanding both sides with the use of knowledge and enthymemes, thus deciding in the end what is best. For Plato, the main use of rhetoric should have been to instruct as opposed to being used just to persuade. Persuasion without the intentions of discerning the difference between good and bad was unsettling for Plato. In contrast, Aristotle believed that not all spectators could be informed effectively and that some needed aid to be persuaded. In lieu of all of their differences, both had major effects on rhetoric in history.





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